January 31, 2007

Taking back winter

I tell you what, a few - maybe a week ago - I was talking about transcending my suburban existance to maybe romanticize myself into the saddle -- and it worked. I have since logged my first major mileage of the 2007 season, most recently today on my commute to work. Today's ride started normally enough, with cold temps - but a welcome tailwind pushing me to the office. This afternoon, however, true images of riding across a frozen lake on my way to a remote settlement became easier to visualize. Kansas, winter, and thick snow showers blanketed the network of roads with an inch-thick slurry of slushy pudding - an 11-mile challenge lay ahead, and as I set forth from the relative safety of the work parking lot onto the nervous streets of town, loaded with 5:00pm cars, I was surprisingly relaxed. The only thing I focused on was staying loose, riding the ruts, and staying textbook - read: "as far to the right as practicable". It was working, and the hundreds of cars that passed me on the way home this evening were very accomidating - though I feel it neccessary to apologize to anyone whose way I might have inadvertantly gotten in. It's one of the few times I was sympathizing on the side of the drivers around me, as news of 30-car pileups and gridlock was fresh on everyone's minds, tense shoulders and nervous applications of the accelerator, only to be complicated by a bicycle on the road ---- in THIS MESS????!!? While *I* know my skill and my experience will keep me upright and secure, the driver passing me doesn't know this. Sadly, the last cyclist they might have passed on a NORMAL day might have been one of those non-signalling, running-the-stop-sign riders that might have been abrasive, or hard to predict at best. It's hard to tell what they expect from me - and I'm certainly not perfect, either. It made certain sections harrowing, but the tenseness was short-lived in each case. In fact, only one mal-informed teenager, safe and secure in his (parents?) Jeep Grand Cherokee used his power-window controls to lower the passenger-side window just long enough to shout "get on the f*ing sidewalk" before rolling it back up and regaining his cushion of recirculated heater-air. Poor bastard. I simply, as always, grin and keep my eyes front, with the sincere hopes that in a fit of rage in his "right" mind he quickly arrived home to fire up the computer and search for "bicycles on the road", perhaps refining his search to include our fair city - only to find himself in the wrong. Sweet justice, only a few clicks away.

Meanwhile, on the slush-covered roads amid the evening rush-hour I carefully make my way.
In the residential maze, in relative seclusion, I slowly make my way past driveway after driveway of amazed citizens, some waving, some just staring with confused looks, snow shovels in-hand, watching as I pass. I offer a quick quip to a mother watching her child play in the new snow near the road -- "Don't try THIS at home, kids" - she laughs, and retorts with a friendly "be safe!" It's a nice evening ride in the snow, no biggie. Miles tick away, twice as slowly as normal, but it's all good. The steady pelting of snow has slowed, and the winds are barely worth mentioning as the sun finally is hidden behind the horizon. I've been on the road over and hour, and still many miles to go -- my average speed must be horrible!

With each passing mile, I try my luck - using a careful ear, I ensure there is no-one coming up behind me and then I guide the front wheel into the thicker snow nearer the shoulder/curb line -- hmmm... seems to stick better here. I abandon the slushy soup for the fresh powder, and suddenly my attempts to stay "as far to the right" are more productive. Passing cars still give a wide berth, likely helped along by the steady and intense flash of my taillights. I make the final turn homeward and enjoy the last of the snow, turning confidently into my driveway without even putting a foot down for insurance -- a good lesson, while probably not as intense in the cardio or hill-climbing department, but still a good time on the bike for a lot of reasons.

More than that, a big smile across my frozen face lights up -- I've done it, I've arrived at the settlement, a warm fire awaits, and supplies for the weary traveler across this frozen wasteland. Romantic, indeed -- Yes, spring, summer and fall are favorites, of course -- but winter, especially episodes like today, are simply unmatched.

On many a training ride LAST late-winter/early-spring, I remember riding along with Ort(of Texas, ya'll) and talking about how miserable the conditions were -- one ride, rain and about 40 degrees, we were passing the miles by tossing back and forth sardonic remarks about the conditions, etc., and a "certain kind of misery", and I remember myself saying something to the effect of "I've never been on a ride in July or August and said to myself "man, I'm sure glad I did all those horrible rides back in February".

I take that back.

Front derailluer logged with snowpack, and spokes, tubes and fenders hanging onto a little, too.

It was a messy commute!

January 26, 2007

Week One

Welp, the year-long chain of self-checks begin here, man --- time for public accountability!

Week One: yeah, it's Friday, and technically in my new plan the weekends that follow are still part of the week in question - if that makes sense: ok, the weeks run Monday to Sunday for cycling purposes. So, I have ridden to work now Monday and Wednesday this week, and will probably go outside for a cold 10-12 mile spin to test out the new tires in the next two days.
Flurries are expected tomorrow, so maybe Sunday. No longer concerned with the cold temperatures -- fully acclimated again, and have suffered thru the first two days on the bike by being UNDER-dressed for the conditions on the rides home each evening. Miserable headwinds and cold, moist air made the evening portions of these two commutes especially brutal -- but I survived. Wednesday, the new-tire purchase was prompted by a flat tire (usually is) - but it may have been a "panic-purchase". The Pasela TGs have done GREAT, in a myriad of conditions, but I think I'm saving them for brevets, simply to not have to worry about flats at all, especially during the winter. Wednesday's flat tire was a sharp rock chip that worked it's way into the tube, but the tire - in Panaracer's defense - had 2500+ miles on it, was quite flat and thin in the middle where the rock chip worked thru, and winter here is especially bad because of the nature of the material they treat the roads with - which, has a lot of rock chips and sand in it. The chances of this kind of flat go WAY up, and so here was my first flat in a WHILE. This time, however, the wind was cold and the hands were cold, and upon flipping the bike over to better-access the rear wheel, I accidentally dropped the front end and proceeded to try and recover the blunder by grabbing hte first thing I could - which this time was the outer chainring, sans-chain. Nice move. 7 puncture wounds and a lacerated pinkie-finger later I've elected to make THAT flat tire my LAST winter flat. I'll put the Pasela's back on ater the first spring storms wash the roads clear of all this crud. Until then, a pair of heavy-but-sturdy Schwalbe Marathon-Plus tires will take their place. As I type this, careful not to double-hit keys with my excessive bandaging on my left hand, I remind myself that the extra weight is TOTALLY worth it.

Week two begins Monday, Jan 29th, putting the countdown timer on the first 200K brevet at 5 weeks. wow. ONLY five weeks and I'll be riding 125 miles -- that first one, as Thursby quipped this afternoon, is gonna HURT. (Was good to run into you today, by the way). Week two will be the first major step - besides week one, of course - towards being more ready than I am as I type this. Week Two: 74 miles, probably divided between three commutes to work, and a very short weekend run of 4 or 5 miles. Very short - almost not worth it, but it will help the training, so I'll make it a FAST five miles and hope to count it as a positive step back towards speed-training again later on this spring.

I've got a pretty good list of goals posted now, for more public accountability, including one non-cycling goal, the endurance portion of which the sysling SHOULD take care of: I'll post those goals here, too - just for fun and ridicule! Enjoy!

(Oh yeah - that's not my hand, by the way. Thank goodness.)

January 20, 2007

Another round

Another round of winter weather is headed straight for the metro area, and yet - this time - I'm not discouraged. I spent this morning over strong coffee, looking out the back window at the clear roads and the whiteish haze of salt treatment left over from the last round of wintry weather, and grinned. It will get sloppy again, but this time it won't be as bad. This is when winter really gets fun -- the common motorist looks upon the winter cyclist as a nut, a crazed fool with no other alternatives for transportation - when in reality the roads underneath are just as traction-providing as they are in spring-time. This is gonna be a good week to get back into the swing of things. The fears of getting cold, getting wet, loathing of discomfort, are fading - and as I prepared my laundry for the coming week I also took the time to dust off the thick gloves, the rain pants, the tights, the thicker wool socks and the long un-used winter headcovers and wool caps. I haven't ridden to work for months now, really. Aside from brief rides and the VERY fun New Year's Day ride, I have barely been on the bicycle. I ache for a ride - and I desperately want to break the "car" habit.
The sun is rising again on a passion that has long been buried under the ashes of personal tragedy and borderline depression. It's time to stoke these fires once again, brush away the ashes of despair and toss a few fresh hardwoods on these waning embers.
I see myself, the winter warrior once more suiting up for the challenge at hand. It's not un-usual to mentally transcend my own suburban existance and fancy myself at Vostok, suiting up to check the telemetry settings on a perimeter wind-speed sensor. Perhaps a Canadian Mounted, pulling on heavy boots and lining his pockets with provisions for a midnight patrol along the Trans-Canada #1 in deep January. Not just some cube-jockey on his way to work to create another meaningless spreasheet, but something harder, more romantic. A Norweigan military policeman, looking out over the harsh Arctic waters, monitoring Russian patrol boat activity, as the winter sun barely peeks its head over the horizon behind me - perhaps putting thumb to pipe tobacco to pass the hours, waiting for my captain to return with a pot of hot tea. Certainly not "just" in Kansas, riding along a safe two-lane road. Perhaps to the motorists around me my mission is daring enough; to hold one's head defiant and walk past the car with its promise of speedy transport without icy winds and exposure, with the promise of heat and entertainment and a soft chair - to walk past all that without a moment's hesitation, to put instead metal spikes into icy slush, to play among the steel beasts at intersections and precariously defy convention, to travel as the harder peoples of only 100 years ago would have. Perhaps fantasy isn't neccessary. Perhaps abject refusal to subscribe to the notion that the human race has become soft by taking up the handlebars and putting my chin to my chest in a frigid headwind, facial hair gathering ice along the way, is enough. A noble choice, or a foolish one - it is mine to shoulder, and my own story to create. Whether making my way across the tundra with medicine for my family, or simply making my way to another day at work with a laptop - however I choose to describe it, it's DAMN good to throw my leg over the top tube again, and set off into the challenge. If it was easy, everyone would do it - and because not everyone does I can hold my head strong with pride in my own personal demonstration that this nation's men have NOT gotten soft. There are still some of us that would have it the hard way. Regardless of the freedoms we have earned and the luxuries we can afford, we choose to suffer, to remind ourselves what life is about.
Bring on the snow - I will not waver.

January 19, 2007

A new look -- sorta

Just got finished uploading new pages to the Commuterdude.com website, so take a peek when you get time -- the look and feel is nearly the same, as I don't have time to get everything into Flash animation and java applet format, etc. I just don't care THAT much, ya know?! Someday... But, for now, the menus have been updated with location markers to make navigation easier, and most importantly the Gear and Logistics pages have been changed to the HOW and WHAT pages, and the former lighting page has been absorbed into the new WHAT page. Explore, and enjoy -- the texts have also been updated and corrected to be a little more up to date, considering the last time I updated ANY of the content on commuter gear and lighting was August of 2001!!!! Yeesh. Anyone with a handlebar mounted LED headlight knows how out-of-date THAT page was. Yeesh.
Anyways -- I'm slowly re-emerging from the shadows, and back into the role of Team Captain, and you should also note that the Team and Ride update page has been updated a little as well -- the focus taken OFF the team itself, and placed on the RIDES that are coming up. If you scroll down, the team photos and info are still there -- just not as apparent as before. Now, you have one less click to get to the upcoming ride information, which is what most people are visiting that page for these days.

Our next team ride is Feb. 27th, a Saturday -- technically, the new year's day ride was out January edition -- so if you missed that one, too bad! Sorry!

Talk to you all soon!